Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Ten-Star Generals"

Following up on what I said last time, let's take a moment to highlight the ways that Barks' stories had a deceptive level of depth, and let's do it not by reference to a full-fledged adventures story, but with a ten-pager instead. 1951's "Ten-Star Generals" has wacky slapstick and Donald screwing things up hither and yon as per usual, but right there on the surface, if you look, there's a family drama that touches on fears and anxieties that the characters could never consciously acknowledge.

So, the kids are galavanting off to win more merit badges. One of Barks' running jokes is the absurd number of medals and badges and promotions that the Junior Woodchucks organization bestows all willy-nilly. And Donald doesn't like this. Why doesn't he like this? I'll tell you: it's because it's outside his purview; something he doesn't really understand yet fears because he (accurately) sees it on some level as a challenge to his parental authority that he can't even begin to compete with.

Naturally, Donald is not a self-reflexive character. So, to prevent himself from having to face his unconscious fears, he puts up a façade of cockiness--sure, those kids got NOTHIN'! Uncle Donald is still large and in charge!

As you would expect, HDL don't even suspect that this psychodrama is going on. To their mind, their uncle is just going bugnuts over this because...well, because he can be like that sometimes. Not that I'm denying that he's engaging in jerkish behavior, but it's not just random, unmotivated, free-floating jerkishness. It has its causes.

But now, perhaps, there is hope, thinks Donald! Heck--he was a Little Boonehead (so-called because they were rocking the coonskin caps, just like Daniel Boone, get it? Okay). He has relevant experience. But, of course, all he gets from the kids is the obvious deformation of the group's name--belittling him. As if it didn't count. Now his parental possessiveness is all mixed up with his pride, which is considerable. He couldn't back off if he wanted to.

It becomes quite imperative that he show the Woodchucks that he is capable of doing what they're doing, only better. How imperative? So much so that his rational faculties are completely short-circuited. There's no reason he should possibly believe that he's actually able to do all this stuff with little to no relevant training, but maybe if he's able to convince them that he can, it will amount to the same thing. None of this is consciously going through his mind, of course.

HDL are remarkably forbearing throughout all of this. There is absolutely no reason that they, as little kids, should have to understand or indulge their surrogate father's nuttiness. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be much that Donald can do here, other than desperately hope that they don't win.

"Smarties"--once again, the inferiority complex. It probably goes without saying that there is no rational basis to think that this insane plan could possibly work.

And work it doesn't. Please spare a moment here for poor Donald's feelings. When an official authority figure confirms--officially!--that your illusions about yourself are indeed just that...well, it can be rough.

Anyway, Donald and the Marshall get into dire straits in the water thanks to Donald's crappy canoe, and only get saved thanks to Woodchuck awesomeness. That's not gonna feel good to Donald.

You could read that final question as malicious, but I tend to think it's not. HDL probably aren't even thinking about the previous unpleasantness--it's just the natural instinct to compare one's own achievements with those of one's parents--all part of growing up. It's actually sort of touching, because it suggests that, in spite of everything, they still imagine that Donald's organization was a real, legitimate thing. Donald, of course, is just left seething.

I don't mean to imply that I think I've made any kind of ultra-brilliant observations here. My only goal was to highlight the kind of depth that Barks' stories often had that is often lacking in the work of his successors. That's not to say that he ALWAYS managed this, that other artists NEVER do, or that it's always even necessary for a story to be successful. But there were plenty of damn good reasons Barks was the best, and this is a big one.



Anonymous Richie said...

I have no profound comment to make. Just the fact I periodically revisit this entry, and seeing the psychological depth you've unearthed from this ten-pager (a place one may think, wasn't ripe for analysis), makes me delight on the writing skills of Unca Carl, and in your own observational talents. Keep it up, GeoX.

May 5, 2015 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Wow--thank you! You really make me want to actually get some more WORK done on this dang ol' blog.

May 5, 2015 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

In Polish translation of the story, the little Boonehead's where called "Zmyślne Kaczorki" ("Clever ducks"), which lead to to some word play between "Zmyślne" (Clever) and "Zmyślony" (made-up)...
...any way long story short, Polish translation mage some sugestion that organisation Donald mentions is something he made-up to look smart in fron of the boys. I get it wasen't oryginal intention but sure it's interesting how few lines are changing the entire context.

November 19, 2016 at 2:10 PM  

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